After a bit of a documentary overload a while back, I’ve backed away from the format, in part because I’m not really sure I was doing a great job of rating them fairly. (I’m not sure that Knuckleball! should really have been a “must see”.) That said, today I dive into another sports doc with Pulling John.
Released in 2009, the film focuses on John Brzenk, for 20 years the undefeated legend of light-heavyweight and open-class arm wrestling. The film also follows the top two young stars of the sport, indomitable Russian training machine, Alexy Voevoda, and cocky loud-mouth West Virginian, Travis Bagent. Each of these two young super-heavyweights have won many titles, but both openly acknowledge that they can’t consider themselves “the best” unless they can beat Brzenk.
This is a very well produced documentary film combing archive material of Brzenk’s legendary career with original footage and candid interviews. There are also some fun little “tutorial” segments that do a good job of bringing the viewer up to speed on the history and rules of professional arm wrestling. The characters are also very interesting. Both of the two challengers are big young muscular dudes with massive personalities. This is contrasted with Brzenk the unassuming middle-aged Midwesterner who’s shadow none the less looms over the sport like King Kong.
The film isn’t without its faults, it’s fairly predictable,and doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch that I felt that it could have. None the less, its well worth seeing.